Author: T. Greenwood
Published: August 7, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Where I picked up my book: Free gift from publisher (all thoughts are completely my own)
Key Words: true crime, dark and twisted, disturbing, trigger warning for abuse
My Rating: 4 star
Synopsis (via Goodreads):
When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says.
This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.
First off, eek, this was a hard book to read. And for anyone that is triggered by sexual abuse, you might want to steer clear from this one. With that said, although it’s ripping and mentally exhausting subject matter, I was completely sucked into this book from the beginning and stayed up late into the nights to finish it up. There was something about this little girl, Sally, that I continued to root for until the very end.
Second, have you ever read, or seen, Lolita? What you might not know (I didn’t) is that it’s based on a true crime abduction of a young girl by a child molester. So the author of this book, T. Greenwood (a woman in case you were wondering-I was), gives a fictional voice to this real-life young girl, Florance Sally Horner, and her family in Rust & Stardust. And just an FYI-don’t google this case unless you want to spoil the book for yourself. I had no idea that it was based off of a true story, but if I had, and had I googled anything, I would have spoiled the book for myself for sure. Just read it as is…and then google the crap out of it like I did. Or don’t-it was quite a terrifying, sad, rabbit hole that I fell down Moving on…
Third, can we talk about abductions for a minute? I remember being slightly nervous about being abducted as a child. Did my parents remember this specific case? Maybe they did. I can’t see they could ever forget it if they had read about it, but it was quite before my time. Were children being endlessly abducted in the 80’s? Maybe, but doubtful. Where did this innate fear come from? The whole idea of a creepy work truck driving by and picking me up could still keep me up at night if I let it. After reading this story and then going down the rabbit hole of the true life abduction of this little girl, I can’t think of anything more terrifying for both children and parents to go through than this. So, although I don’t think my fear was necessarily justified, it makes more sense why it was there and why my parents routinely taught us not to talk to strangers in cars, scream if someone tried to grab us, and always made sure we had a quarter in our pocket to call home. Brrr…it’s terrifying. So as I was reading this book, I was completely engrossed with the story, but also just kept thinking-did her mom ever warn her about child molesters? Did they have that talk about not talking to strangers like my parents did? Why wasn’t the neighborhood and school obsessed with finding her? Was there a fear of abductions in the 50’s?
Also…now as an adult, I just felt such pain for Sally’s mother and the role that she played in her daughter’s disappearance. It was heartbreaking to think of myself in her shoes and the responsibility she must have felt for her daughter being kidnapped. I had moments when I was so mad at her I could have flung the book across the room. How could you let her leave town with a stranger? How could you not be shaking heaven and hell to get her back? How are you not banging down every police station you can get to and making them do their job to find her? How are you just going about your business for the past few MONTHS and simply thinking your daughter is enjoying the beach? It’s been two months for god sake without you really even second guessing her whereabouts. But then I remembered her circumstance and that gave me some empathy for her. She’s not had an easy go at life, especially recently, and maybe it was easier to just keep thinking that all was fine with Sally. I’m not sure I would react like she did as a mother, but times were different in the 50’s and I’m also not here to judge.
Speaking of the 50’s, I also had a major realization when reading this book just thinking about how much life has changed from then to today. Today, we have cell phones, with tracking devices on them, to know the whereabouts of our loved ones at all times. We have social media to that tell the world exactly where we are in real-time. We have text messaging and Skype calls to keep in touch. We have the Internet. There is no such thing as finding change to make a call from a telephone booth, we just grab our phone out of our pocket and hit one button that immediately calls 911. Times have changed. And although bad things still happen (I should say bad things definitely still happen), they are just different kinds of crimes they are occur more frequently now. It was such a reality check for me, a person that grew up without all of these technological advances, but now depends so much on them. I sometimes balk at our technological advances and just wish for the days cell phones and the Internet, but crimes like this play out very differently in these modern times.
Another thing that struck me was how this little girl must have been told to respect her elders, respect the police and FBI, and not question authority. I won’t say that I wasn’t taught the same thing in the 80’s, and this was certainly common for children in the 1950’s. But when she just trusted this man and didn’t ask questions for literally YEARS, or at least didn’t verbally ask questions for years, I just kept thinking what a disservice we do to children when we teach them this. I think I was taught this as a child too. Don’t question teachers, coaches, adults in positions of power…but as I grew up, I spent a lot of time doing the exact opposite. It might not have been the best way to spend my teenage years (let’s just say there were a lot of detention slips on my desk) but now as an adult, I am so, so happy that I learned to have a voice and question authority. After reading this book-it was even more apparent that we need to find that balance with children to respect adults, but don’t take any shit from them either. I don’t have the answers as to how to do this-but I’d like to explore it more.
Overall, I loved this book, but it was a very hard read. It struck a few nerves for me and triggered some deep seeded hurt and anger in me too. Lolita turned this relationship into a weird love story that I was never comfortable with and I’m thankful for T. Greenwood for showing the relationship for what it was-a terrifying experience for a little girl who lost so much to a sick man. My heart is forever aching for Sally, but I’m glad to have “met” you.